Social Care in Japan – No. 4 Hostel California…
Finding out about social care in Japan
Kate’s continuing adventures to find out more about social care in Japan (thanks to NCVO and the Japanese Government)…It sounds like she’s been on the receiving end of some anti-Staying Up Late behaviour!
Welcome to the Hostel California. You can check ‘in’ anytime you want, but you can never leave.
Our Stay Up Late poster says ‘Imagine if you had to go home at 9pm every night?’ Well now I don’t need to imagine as this weekend that is exactly what happened!
Arriving at the NPO management forum at a youth hostel style venue where they held the Olympics in 1964, we had the rules explained for the next 4 days. A look of horror spread over all the European delegates faces as we were told ‘you might find some of these rules unnecessary but we hope that you respect them. Please do not leave the gated centre after 9pm and lights off at 11:30pm.’
The forum went on from 9am until 9pm each night. So it meant after a 12 hour day inside a conference room when most of us would’ve like to escape ‘the compound’ for a much needed after work drink our only option was to leg it to the one local shop on site before 9:50pm and join the queue for a can of beer from the fridge and sit in the lobby. Of course we respect that fact the Japanese government have sponsored us to be here and we have a very busy itinerary to make sure we gather meaningful information, but after 5 days of discussion and presenting our results to the cabinet office on a Sunday – seeing the bright sides of the city just beyond the gates I couldn’t help but feel this is what I spend much of my life fighting for people with disabilities through working for Stay Up Late.
I think it’s the first time as an adult I’ve been told I’m not allowed to go out in the evening and what time to go to bed. It put me in an instantly bad mood and meant for the rest of the orientation meeting I sat there thinking about writing this blog as a way to off load!
I wasn’t the only one to feel like this and by the following day the group leaders called a meeting with the event organisers to explain why we felt that as we are being treated as professionals and experts in our field, surely we too should be able to make the decision about our bedtime.
For our mental health by the third day we were all going a bit delirious and we didn’t feel like we were being supported to lead the balanced life we had been preaching about in our presentations. This may sound overdramatic but we had one member of the team have a panic attack and another oversleep and miss the start of the session due to exhaustion. We weren’t allowed to use the pool or sports equipment we were surrounded by on the Olympic site & even had to ask for the facilitator to open the curtains so we could get some natural light in. It’s been a challenging few days working across different cultures, particularly as most of us are from the charity sector so are used to working in a much more relaxed way, not in formal wear and in boardrooms for hours on end reaching no decisions on anything!
The Japanese openly discuss how they are very strict with time – if we go on a break at 10:37 we have to be back by 10:45 for example so we have an 8 minute break and we are expected to be back in our seats before the time. No rounding the time up or down! However, it was difficult to get anything concrete done because every time we moved groups we had to do self introduction, wait for translation after each speaker and then a moderator would lead general discussion with set topics such as how NPO’s can collaborate with businesses or utilise human resources. Despite the time keeping being totally inflexible there still seems to be a constant mad rush. I haven’t seen any meetings where there hasn’t been at least one or two Japanese staff running around in a panic to get everything ready even though they have been in the conference room since 7am. Having 39 European delegates from the charity sector who are not used to all these formalities it felt a bit like we were part of an experiment to see if we would go off the rails!
Having two full days of discussion in our chosen field, we were not told until 5pm we had to present to the forum the next morning so we then had a mad rush to prepare. We fedback to the organiser that had we been told, even at lunchtime we probably wouldn’t have had to be in the communal area until they turned the lights off at 11pm, and Gavin probably wouldn’t have got a phone call to his bedroom at 1am by his Japanese group to be asked to go and change something in the presentation, only to be asked to change it back again in the morning. One thing we have learnt about Japanese culture is that they are not encouraged to stand out but rather blend in. Dress the same, look the same, think the same. It’s not encouraged to be radical thinkers here. And it’s certainly not encouraged to speak out if you don’t agree with something.
Despite all of this, a part of this weekend has been learning about how to be resilient when working for an NPO and we did of course have to become resilient in our personal lives too. We had our basic needs met, we had a bed, food and water. We are all working together despite cultural differences to share ideas in how to improve lives for all our service users. But it made me realize how such a lack of freedom or a social life can have an impact on your wellbeing. It’s something we discuss in volunteer training at stay up late but living it myself only for 4 days made me understand it through personal experience even more.
Luckily we were saved by the cultural exchange evening we all had to perform a song or dance from our country. This was a chance to have a laugh, network and talk about our organisations and share local beverages at each table. We all agreed this informal networking was where we really learnt the most.
At the official closing ceremony of part one of the trip we raised a glass of Japanese iced tea to all we’d achieved so far. It’s been an emotionally challenging week for everyone, working with people who were strangers at the start, we all miss our loved ones at home and are still trying to get over jetlag but there’s been a huge sense of comradely across all the countries and despite all our difficulties there’s a sense of sadness as we drive away from the Japanese delegates we have been working with. We may never get to see all the projects that they have worked on but the sharing of ideas and projects has been fascinating and inspiring. Working in a very business like environment, in boardroom style without Internet use for quick answers to things or sharing of information and resources until 9pm is not something any of us are used to. As Gavin our group leader explained, we may work until 6pm or so in the office but then we are likely to move the meeting outside or to the pub! I told the group the story of a German tourist asking to take a photo of me and Paul having a business meeting in the pub over a pint as it’s not usually done this way in other countries. But we have learnt to respect our differences and find a way to work together produced 3 presentations on how NPO’s can collaborate with business enterprises to help sustainability, how they can utilise human resources and create effective PR strategies.
And finally, Despite doing things the right way – and asking for a bending of the 9pm curfew – we were still told a firm no we can’t change the rules. I can’t confirm or deny whether or not we stuck to these rules but maybe you can guess whether we jumped the fence or not and lived to tell the tale!
Here’s a little tune that came to mind – can just picture Kate masterminding a breakout over the fence…I have a feeling she may have encouraged a small amount of rule-breaking! (Paul)
Read the next instalment here